Today, the second Basho of the year begins – a Basho being a Sumo Wrestling Tournament.
Sumo encompasses many aspects of what Kendo Nagasaki encourages us to reflect upon, as we live our lives – there is strength, strategy, and focus, of course, but Sumo originates in a Shinto ceremony whereby negative influences are overthrown, and good fortune and generous crops are harvested that year.
There is still a fascinating tradition of ‘One-Man Sumo’, wherein an amateur Sumo wrestler battles (imagined) negative forces, ensuring that only positive energies smile upon the local farming community; these almost-unheard-of rituals are very popular ‘off the beaten track’ in rural Japan, because the people there remain keenly aware of the need to be in harmony with nature, and do everything possible to support it.
All the foregoing can be seen in Kendo – his indomitability is an example of how strong we must be to be able to ‘fight the good fight’ for ourselves, our families, and our communities, his focus is an example of how all one’s strength can be mindfully applied to a task, and he is an excellent example of how the intuition can be empowered to yield right action quicker and more ‘right for the moment than the mere conscious mind could possibly come up with, and his sympathetic relationship with that most elegant of ‘big pictures’ – nature itself – leads to positive progress in life.
Watching Sumo itself can be a meditation, reflecting upon all these qualities, and particularly its spiritual roots – as he studied Kyu Shin Do (as well as judo, kendo, and Zen) under Kenshiro Abbe, the man behind Kendo’s mask was also brought to exquisite focus by also studying Sumo under his sensei.
This month, Kendo would encourage you to visualise yourself as strong as a sumo wrestler, and as focused, as intuitively strategic, and as empowered by your harmonious roots within nature itself – this is how Kendo is, and how he would aspire for us all to be, as we battle for right against the challenges of life.
At the New Year, Kendo recommends that we employ the metaphor of welcoming the first sunrise of the year, and strongly associating ourselves the healing, strength, and positive new beginnings that it symbolises. Perhaps more practical than ‘New Year Resolutions’ which may become irksome to maintain, resolving to be generally stronger, better, and more positive has broader applicability, and is more forgiving if we occasionally back-slide! If we do, we can simply renew our aspirational vows.
After a few weeks, we begin to feel familiar with a New Year, and by this time, it may feel like pretty much any old year – it’s still bitingly cold outside, our usual struggles continue to confront us, and we’re only half-way to the Spring Solstice – the optimism of the New Year can by now have begun to seem somewhat remote…
However, Kendo would remind us of a charming Japanese ritual which takes place at the beginning of February, called ‘Setsubun’. The aim of this fun tradition is to banish ‘evil’ and welcome good furtune, and it’s practised by throwing roasted soy-beans out of the front door! The ‘evil’ can comprise anything negative, such as negative thoughts, ill-health, and any kind of misfortune, and it goes without saying that any kind of good fortune is welcome!
Kendo points out that it’s not actually necessary to start throwing beans about (though it sounds hilarious!), but even entertaining the image is an excellent reminder of the positivity we embraced at the New Year, and our affirmation of ‘new leaf’ determination to be better from that moment onwards.
So, if things are starting to seem like ‘same-old, same-old’ drudgery, if you’re fed-up with the cold and grey weather, and if optimism is feeling a little scarce, Kendo recommends that we remind ourselves of our New Year optimism and aspiration, by imagining ourselves hurling handfuls of beans out through our front doors, knowing that they take that all our negativity with them, and that in its stead, good fortune will flood inwards and surround us…
The Japanese take the symbolism of the tradition seriously, but they also have huge fun practising Setsubun, and even if it’s hard for us in the West to accept that a bean can actually carry ‘evil’ away, the hilarity of the mental image is healing in and of itself – this might be an argument for practising it regularly during the year!
As 2017 begins, Kendo would remind us that positive collaboration is the ideal approach to life, yet maintaining such an aspiration in these times of endless information can be immensely difficult.
As he wrote last month, Kendo points out that there is so much visible conflict around us, and news – even ‘fake news’ – is ever-more available to us, so with such an ocean of events, opinions, and pressures around us, he asks, ‘How are we to find and maintain a path that really matters?’
The answer, he says, requires diligence, and a determination to do the right thing without allowing ourselves to be side-tracked. If this sounds familiar, it is – it’s the central principal of Zen and Kyu Shin Do.
So, when you hear of political machinations, the unbelievable findings of various countries’ intelligence services, and highly questionable agendas on all levels – Kendo says, think twice before you take a position on what you may hear or see.
It has been said often that Kendo is eclectic – he employs multiple symbolisms to help us gain objectivity and view the world around us with a necessary degree of detachment, and in this vein, he will use the example of karma. Kendo’s actual position on karma is that it’s not worth dwelling upon, because it suggests a hypothetical source of our challenges (which we should meet with benevolence, courage, and optimism whatever their source), but in the sense of keeping our heads above the modern tide of information, Kendo says that karma is a useful way of reminding ourselves that everyone – even countries – have karma, and they must rise to their own challenges in order to grow. Taking an opinion on someone else’s evolution may not be the best use of our own energies.
Kendo would take this idea further; he would argue that our challenge amidst so much information is discrimination – this very problem may well be ‘karmic’ for our generation, but it’s up to us to make the wisest choice on how we use our energies.
Opinions can be the silliest of mental traps – the conscious mind is expert at playing with ideas for their own sake, but they can distract us from the responsibilities we should be meeting, and some of them, in our immediate sphere, can be quite subtle – we should not allow ourselves to be pointlessly distracted, says Kendo, even if it seems as if everyone else is taking a position…
The foregoing makes it ever-clearer that the peace achieved in Zen meditation and the objectivity gained with Kyu Shin Do are becoming ever-more important in our lives; as a brief thought-experiment, see how detached you can be after reading just one word: ‘Trump’. Now try to stop thinking about it! Kendo points out that in and around that one person are countless energies (some of them arguably karmic!) and their out-working in the media seem like a compelling new kind of lurid theatre, but we should still try to remain detached. Doing this will allow us to fully attend to our own lives, and to allow unqualified energies of nature to have whatever positive influence they can, and we can help those energies by seeing beyond all the noise and nonsense, to the best possible outcomes for all concerned.
Kendo wishes for us all to maintain balanced, positive, and – above all – benevolently detached approaches to life throughout 2017, however complex, strange, and compelling it may seem to become!
Remember – Zen through Kyu Shin Do.
As we approach the end of 2016, we arguably find ourselves in a strikingly changed world. We have war, we have dissatisfaction with the political process, we have hardship on many fronts, we have an increased sense of ‘otherness’ among us, and these energies can be seen all around the world…
Kendo encourages us to exercise a gentle awareness of such emergent contrasts, because they are important, but not allow them to dominate our awareness. He recommends the following approaches – firstly, do not fear what is happening around you – there is no need to. In fact, Kendo counsels that calmness is essential, in order to bring peace, strength, and order to the changes going on around us.
Secondly, Kendo recommends waiting for your intuition to guide you. When an unfamiliar situation arises, it can be comforting to take a position quickly, because then, indecision has been banished, but if things evolve in opposition to that position, fear may arise, when all that’s actually happening is that the ‘bigger picture’ is expressing itself more clearly. Kendo reminds us that such fear can be avoided by maintaining a fluid impression of what’s evolving, and – as stated above – a calm and strong head amidst shifts beyond our control will ease ourselves and others into the new way of things.
Kendo also recommends that we trust in the processes around us. There would seem to be global and cultural shifts under way, and the emerging new ways will need people of optimism and benevolence to help it express itself in the best possible way.
In summary of the foregoing, Kendo counsels that in these unusual times, all you need to do is continue doing what the Buddha advocates – be the best you can be – keep doing the right thing at all times, embrace the positivity and intuitive gifts which come from calmness, and know that the future contains your own positive, flexible, and constructive attitude.
So, Kendo advises that whatever challenge or change we witness, be ready to practice Kyu Shin Do – place it all at that safe, objective distance from your Zen-still self, and you will simply know how to be a positive force in the unfoldment of the emerging way of things, and the New Year will have the best possible start in being the best it can be also.
It’s 13th November once again, which means another anniversary for Kendo Nagasaki, which is, of course, being celebrated with another Event at the Retreat.
Actually, this 13th November is the second anniversary of the orchard which Kendo had planted here at the Retreat to celebrate his half-century. Just as on that night, tonight, we’ll be back out there, with a candle burning at each of the orchard’s 50 trees, with Kendo performing his Aspiration/Affirmation Stick Burning Ceremony at a vigorous brazier – it should be quite a sight in the deep, dark Staffordshire November evening!
When the Anniversary Orchard was inaugurated, we were putting more energy into the Events here at the Retreat – at the time we couldn’t accommodate overnight guests, which we now can, and, as we had hoped, we’ve reached new people who come to us in order to escape the intensity and stresses of their lives, find peace, and consequently gain empowerment and inspiration.
What we couldn’t anticipate were the surprise developments of the last two years. Some things which we thought would fall into place became stuck, but others which seemed likely to be obstinate have actually unfolded most obligingly, and yet more situations have arisen out-of-the-blue.
As a part of the Retreat celebrates its own 2nd birthday, it seems fitting to reflect that what Kendo teaches here seems to apply to the Retreat itself too – collectively we have needed to be flexible like a willow branch as unexpected things have arisen, we have needed to let fixed ideas fall away to be replaced by patience as they unfolded at their own pace, and we’ve found ourselves needing to create space for the life of the Retreat itself to breathe.
Of course, none of the foregoing should be a surprise to any of us, as these are fundamental aspects of Kendo’s teachings, but it is with a wry smile that we appreciate that even the best intentions, pursued with good-natured vigour, still benefit from Kyu Shin Do: events themselves have reminded us to view them from a position of Zen stillness, and the Kyu Shin Do objectivity gives them space to evolve without changes feeling unexpected.
Consequently, Kendo’s healing message this November is to appreciate that many things beyond ourselves also benefit from Zen stillness and Kyu Shin Do objectivity – our work, our vocations, our homes, and even our hopes for the future. Kendo has always enjoined us to meditate so that we can be the best we can be for the benefit of all around us, but it may also be worth sparing a moment to think about how applying Zen Kyu Shin Do principles to everything we touch and interact with can help them too, and how we relate to them, and so discover how to make a positive difference to the bigger picture of life all around us.
Perspective – it’s a fascinating concept…
Kendo has spoken at length on how the whole of nature around ourselves is the biggest of all “big pictures”, and we need to humbly appreciate that we are a part of that specific realm if we want nature to treat us favourably. This is the kind of humility that is practised in prayer – accepting that there are bigger things than ourselves – and it helps keep the ego in check.
But, sometimes we can find ourselves asking, “What is my place in the ‘big picture’?”
It’s a question that is typical of the mind, fabricating a reason to analyse, instead of just getting on with things! But – is there an answer?
Kendo points out that there most certainly is.
Of all things, ideas, and concepts, there is one immutable truth about human life: our societies pre-exist us, we are born into them and adapt to them, we contribute to them, and they continue to exist after we have moved on. This is both an example of bigger things than ourselves, and an illustration that our actions matter.
Everything we do creates ripples in the society around us, and changes the quality of society for everyone; our lifetimes can have a profound effect on the lives of many others, and because in the west we spend so much time wrapped-up in ourselves, we can fail to realise this.
There is another fascinating dynamic here, says Kendo – when you reach out to society, it reaches back – you become aware of needs that it collectively has, and you may be the person who is uniquely positioned and skilled to make positive change at that moment; if you have a heart and a social conscience, you respond.
All the foregoing is why caring about the society around us is so important to Kendo, springing as it does from the roots of Buddhism. It’s so much more than playing the role of a caring person – it’s making quantum shifts in the entire fabric of reality, forever.
Kendo’s healing message for October is: never under-estimate the magnitude of the difference you can make, just by having the right approach and being ready to reach out. We are in the Astrological time of Libra – Kendo’s illustration should help us understand how inportant it is, and how easy it is, to make our society fair, just, and positive for all.
Almost exactly one month ago, on 14th August, Kendo once again attended the British Wrestlers’ Reunion. This time, he was accompanied by our friends, Lyn and Ian Rigby, and their daughter, Courtney. This had been planned for some time, as The Kendo Nagasaki Foundation continues working closely with the Lee Rigby Foundation to provide a peaceful ‘get-away’ here on the Retreat estate, the Lee Rigby Lodge.
Copies of Lyn’s book were on sale at the Reunion, and so was the Nagasaki Foundation’s “Wrestling for Veterans” DVD of the March wrestling contest and fund-raiser at the Victoria Hall, Hanley, and both contributed towards raising funds for the Lee Rigby Foundation.
The support from all who came to the Reunion for Lyn and Kendo’s joint appearance and work together was more than generous – it was inspiring. Among wrestling fans there are some extremely generous people, and some of them are influential too, and what was pledged to us on that day was so magnanimous as to be genuinely humbling.
Following that great event, Kendo wishes to let it be known to all who are bereaved, those who are stressed, those who are traumatised, and those who can barely see a way ahead, there is boundless support available for you, so please reach out for it. We are doing all we can to progress the opening of the Lee Rigby Lodge, and it will be a wonderful facility, but until we can reach that goal, please know that you are very far from alone – we continue to be amazed at how much caring and support is around us all, and it is a contagious, positive wave.
So, whatever your circumstances, Kendo says, hang in there! In the very short term, just taking a deep breath, and then another, and then another – this is mindfulness, and it will bring you peace, and the ability to begin to see beyond your immediate problem. Kendo understands that at times, it can seem impossible to see into the next minute, but he asks you to believe that you can – and then to believe that there is an ocean of support awaiting you.
Having faith in a brighter future is something that applies on all levels, and Kendo points out that together, we can achieve it. In the Lee Rigby Lodge, through our work with the Lee Rigby Foundation, we at the Nagasaki Foundation have a vision for the future, a future which is a positive evolution of the present, which will rely upon the positivity and generosity of those around us. We’ve been fortunate enough to see that such support and generosity is real and powerful, and the future looks incredibly bright, but it’s a future which – until it happens – continues to require our faith in better things to come.
The same is true for us all, especially those who are currently challenged by their circumstances, so try Kendo’s suggestion – look up from the stony path of life, and even if you still see clouds, believe that they will clear, and the sun will shine again for you – and we’re here to help make that happen.
Kendo wants you to know that you are not alone – you are among friends, who care. Believe in that, reach out, and rise up.
Every August in Japan is the celebration of Obon, when the souls of our ancestors are said to briefly return to Earth, to visit with us. It is a time of prayer, reflection, and aspiration to the highest ideals of all generations.
This is a comforting thought, especially when viewed in light of Kendo’s perspective on the Tree of Souls in the grounds of The Retreat – this tree inspires us to think of the wisdom of our ancestors, and live our lives in ways that they would be proud of. Kendo says that the wisdom of our ancestors has a wonderful objectivity – having gained the experience of an entire lifetime, their perspective is now a part of the greater celestial whole, away from the mundane interplays of mortal life. Even thinking of how our ancestors might behave when faced with one of our challenges is likely to encourage us to take a higher way.
Kendo points out that objectivity is an amazingly powerful perspective – it is, after all, at the core of the Kyu Shin Do Way, whereby all the events of our lives are viewed as separate from our essential selves, whilst we reflect upon them from a position of Zen peace, at the very centre of all their orbits. This kind of dispassion allows our own intuitive selves to inform our actions, as opposed to getting tied-up in emotional reactions to our day-to-day struggles.
Consequently, Kendo tells us that following the Buddhist maxim of being the best we can be, to best support our families and societies, becomes easier when we remember that the higher ideals to which we aspire are powerfully positively informed by objectivity, and we, too, should always strive for that same benevolence with detachment.
This applies whatever your struggle may be, and is becoming even more pertinent as Internet “trolling” is increasing all the time. On the surface, “trolls” may seem to be being malicious, seeking only to wound with their unkind words, but viewing them with the Kyu Shin Do Way reveals that such words do not define us – they only define the one who said or wrote them. It can be difficult emotionally to ‘step away’ from a slight or a slander, but this is a test of our discrimination, and we must work not to fail such a test – look at the words objectively, remember that you have the highest ideals at heart, and such things cannot diminish you.
This is why Kendo tells us that responding benevolently to “trolls” is the only way – they will only learn to grow beyond such petty and malicious actions when they see that the barb they’ve fired could never have adversely affected a higher thinker, and they’ll see that they have acted shamefully, and this will help them to grow. Even those who “troll” are on their own journeys of evolution, and we should be ready to help them too.
So, says Kendo – be secure in yourself and the standards by which you live, remain benevolently detached from any immature behaviours around you, and see the best possible future for yourself, your family, and the whole of society around you, even the parts which have yet to evolve.
Now that we’re into the second half of the year, Kendo says that it’s a good time to reflect back, and to look forward.
When you visit the Nagasaki retreat, you find that there are several references to ‘taking stock’ – seeing where you’ve come from, where you are now, and where you’re heading. The most obvious example of this is in terms of our life path, which you can consider when you stop at the ‘Pathway Bench’, and reflect on all the challenges and difficulties you’ve successfully overcome. This achievement is something to be proud of, and shows that you have strength upon which you can depend for the future, whatever it may have in store for you.
But, as Kendo wanted to make clear during last weekend’s Event, there are other ways of taking stock, which can be surprisingly empowering.
Kendo points out that it is fundamental to Buddhism that we we seek to live right, to be the best we can be, and support our families and communities the best we can. In day-to-day life, this often takes the form of simply pausing to reflect upon the most enlightened choice in any given situation – before reacting to someone, pause, take a mindful breath, and remember that they have their own difficulties, and they, too, may occasionally feel somewhat overwhelmed. If they are short-tempered, they may not be being malicious, just stressed-out, and the best way to help them is to respond to them as if their purest Buddha nature were being presented to you. Kendo points out that this is a very powerful way to break into negative cycles of interaction between people, and brings harmony where none might otherwise develop.
Moving from challenge to challenge in the most enlightened way possible is an excellent way to live, but if we are too preoccupied with the stoney obstacles on the path of life, we may fail to look up often enough, and be inspired by the beauty of the flowers, trees, and the sky.
Kendo tells us that diligence in life is incredibly worthy, but remember that beyond your duties, you are a part of a bigger and much more beautiful picture, and doing this can bring you immense inspiration – which you richly deserve.
Kendo tells us to remember that life is about more than prevailing on the path – he tells us to drink in the inspiration that comes from looking up, and recognising that we are part of an elegant and excellent bigger picture, and realising this is both hugely rewarding and empowering, and it significantly empowers our diligence too, ever raising our game for our own future, and that of all we touch.
As we seek to develop the Nagasaki Retreat, and give the opportunity for more and more people to come here to escape their worries and re-charge their batteries, there is a lot to do…
Top of the list is refurbishing currently-unused rooms, and the tasks range from the simple, such as cleaning and clearing-out, to the complex, such as plastering and plumbing. We have a fantastic vision, where every possible space here is available to help someone who needs to escape, relax, and begin their journey forward anew, but, as every pebble in the stoney paths around the Retreat symbolise, there are many challenges facing our lofty aims.
However, as Kendo’s vision unfolds, we have been greatly heart-warmed and profoundly humbled by the generosity of our friends around us – they have shown immediate readiness to do whatever it takes to help us help others, and we are deeply grateful to them.
What is happening at the Nagasaki Retreat has parallels to anyone in need of help or healing support. Whether it’s our charming old building or a lone individual, where there is a need, there can be uncertainty about how to reach out for support, and sometimes such an uncertainty can conceal the very real opportunities that are out there.
All we had to do was make the gentlest of mentions that we needed help, and it was there, in amounts and by degrees beyond our most optimistic expectations – and the same is true for anyone: don’t be afraid to ask for help.
You would be amazed at the level of support that can flow from good people, and the willingness with which it can be offered. Everyone who comes to the Nagasaki Retreat lives by the progressive Buddhist principle of being the best they can be, so they can best support their families and the society around them. Kendo serves them by showing them ways of finding the ultimate peace and strength, and they pass on that positivity without reservation, themselves instruments in spreading Kendo’s ongoing work.
So Kendo’s message to anyone who needs help and support is simple: don’t let uncertainty hold you back – reach out: there is a great deal of active, positive humanity in the world, help and support are near and ready and willing, and waiting to hear from you.